Transnational Organized Crime

High-level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Transnational Organized Crime

Statement of the United States of America

Delivered by Elizabeth Verville, Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Mr. President and distinguished delegates, let me open my remarks today with a note of appreciation to the Governments of Mexico and Italy for spearheading today’s meeting of the UN General Assembly.  These discussions mark an important milestone – the 10 year anniversary of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC).

This treaty represents a watershed for the international community in its efforts to combat serious crime.    In a globalized world, we increasingly face transnational organized crime that is growing in its scope, scale and harm.   As underscored by President Obama, “in recent years, the world has seen a convergence of transnational threats and networks, which are more dangerous and destabilizing than ever. These evolving threats and networks are becoming more fluid and sophisticated; are able to cross borders; and involve elements of international organized crime, illicit finance and trafficking in drugs, arms and persons. This can undermine stability and security, fuel violence and corruption, weaken the rule of law, and subvert legitimate economies.”

The UNTOC is the first legally binding instrument to commit members towards collective action and international cooperation against these threats.   It is supplemented by three groundbreaking Protocols to combat (1) trafficking in persons, (2) migrant smuggling and (3) illicit trafficking in firearms.  Of significant note, the Trafficking in Persons Protocol contains the first internationally agreed definition of trafficking in persons, as a separate crime in its own right.  The Protocol has successfully raised the consciousness of states, leading many for the first time to create specific criminal provisions within their domestic law in order to prosecute the perpetrators of this form of modern slavery, as well as to undertake measures that protect victims and prevent this crime.

No state is immune from the harms caused by international crime, and no state acting alone can effectively counter criminal networks that ignore our borders with impunity.  It is important that we work collectively to translate the requirements and opportunities of the UNTOC into concrete action.  As of June 2010, 154 states have ratified the UNTOC, thereby committing themselves to its unique framework for cooperation, including mutual legal assistance, extradition, and uniform requirements for criminalizing serious crimes committed by organized crime groups.   Even more important, states are increasingly using the Convention for law enforcement purposes.  For its part, the United States has used the UNTOC and/or its supplemental protocols on more than 25 occasions as a basis for extradition and mutual legal assistance requests, including for illegal arms trafficking, money laundering and fraud prosecutions.

The UNTOC lays the framework for greatly expanded cooperation among prosecutors and other law enforcement officials, and this event today reminds us that we must continue to work together even more closely towards its universal implementation.  To this end, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) deserves special mention as a key provider of technical assistance to assist states in practical application of the provisions of the UNTOC.  The United States is committed to continuing its support for UNODC capacity building efforts.  At the same time, the United States will continue to complement this multilateral engagement with bilateral assistance to equip states with the ability to successfully investigate and prosecute criminals in full conformity with the rule of law and respect for human rights, while also protecting victims and witnesses.   These endeavors to strengthen criminal justice systems are a long-term process, which will be facilitated by increased coordination not only among donors but also on-the-ground with partner nations.

To help focus, direct and make best use of this assistance, we must also develop an effective mechanism to review implementation and promote practical application of the UNTOC and its Protocols.   Our work in the months before the UNTOC Fifth Conference of the Parties, scheduled for October, will help lay the foundation for progress towards an agreed review mechanism.  Already, a dozen countries, including the United States, have agreed to participate in a pilot project to test methods of review.  The interim results of this endeavor could help inform the Fifth Conference of the Parties as it considers this important step forward.

In addition to acting on our treaty commitments and increasing multilateral cooperation, there are other certain steps that states can take in the short-term to prevent their territories from being used as safe havens for criminal organizations or their assets.    In the U.S. experience, visa denial, including revocation of already issued visas, has proven an effective tool, particularly for targeting corrupt officials, their family members, those that corrupt them, and their assets.   Corruption greases the wheels for organized crime groups and even terrorists, leading those officials that our citizens depend upon most to turn a blind eye or even to facilitate criminal activity.   Targeting these corrupt facilitators sends a strong message that such illicit behavior is not tolerated, and responsible states can demonstrate that they will not be complicit with those who help victimize their own citizens.

Such action also reinforces the UN Convention against Corruption – a complementary Convention that went into force in December 2005.  As we prepare to launch the UNCAC review mechanism later this month, each and every participating state should reaffirm its commitment to use its individual review to the fullest extent possible, serving as a model of transparency and diligence.  Participants should welcome site visits, engage in consultation with nongovernmental stakeholders and agree to publication of the full outcomes.  The United States is committed to following these principles both in its own review and in the review of other participants.

In closing, Mr. President, as highlighted in the recently released U.S. National Security Strategy, combating transnational organized crime requires a multidimensional strategy that safeguards citizens, disrupts illicit trafficking networks, breaks the financial strength of criminal networks, fights government corruption, strengthens the rule of law, bolsters judicial systems and improves transparency.  Our discussions today have demonstrated that there is no silver bullet to end the scourge of organized crime.  Rather, each state must undertake a range of short- and long- term actions with a view to enhancing international cooperation and strengthening the international framework which we are commemorating here today – the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.  To this end, the United States reaffirms its commitment to move forward in this common and shared responsibility.

Thank you.